The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne – Review by Pernille Ripp

13642528There are terrible things that can happen to us whether we see them coming or not.  There are things that can surprise us, leave us flabbergasted, flummoxed, and utterly unsure of what to do now.  There are days that can turn our entire lives upside down, leaving us wondering what we did to deserve such a turn of events.  Barnaby Brockett’s mother would tell you that the day Barnaby was born is exactly one of those days.  A day where her otherwise normal life became horribly un-normal and that is simply not acceptable, you see Barnaby floats and that is simply unacceptable.

Desperate to please his parents, Barnaby does his best to keep both feet on the ground – but he just can’t do it. One fateful day, the Brockets decide enough is enough. They never asked for a weird, abnormal, floating child. Barnaby has to go . . .

Betrayed, frightened and alone, Barnaby floats into the path of a very special hot air balloon – and so begins a magical journey around the world, with a cast of extraordinary new friends.


The tale of Barnaby Brockett, the boy who floats, sailed its way into my reading life as a Global Read Aloud suggestion.  Never one to miss an Australian book whenever one is suggested, I quickly ordered it, having genuinely no idea what it would be about.  Upon its arrival I was still perplexed.  A boy who floated?  How could that be a good story?  And yet the tale of Barnaby Brockett floats into your heart (pun intended).  A boy whose parents always strived to be the most normal people in the world are saddled with this miraculous boy and hate it.  Not just a “I wish he wasn’t that way” type of hate but a “He is ruining our lives type of hate.”  I immediately felt for the boy as he tried to make the best of the situation and yet when his mother cut him loose, I could not anticipate how the book would turn out.  What followed was not just a magical journey for the boy but also a perspective of what it means to be normal and whether normal is really something to strive for or not.

This book deserves a place in any respectable classroom library, in fact, this book would do well as a beginning of the year read aloud.  Students will gravitate toward the kindness of Barnaby, and hold their breath as he tries to get back home to Sydney, eager to correct the mistake his parents so obviously must have made.  Whether he makes it or not I cannot tell you. You will have to let Barnaby float into your life to find out.

Pernille Ripp is a 5th grade teacher in Middleton, Wisconsin where she gets to inspire students to take control of their learning journey on a daily basis.  She is also the creator of the Global Read Aloud (, a literacy initiative that has connected more than 200,000 students since 2010 through the use of technology.  Her first book will be published this April by Powerful Learning Press entitled “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students .”  Always looking to change the way education is done to kids, she blogs regularly at “Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.” Her biggest prize are her 4 children as well as the love from her husband.  Follow her on Twitter @PernilleRipp.